Monday, July 17, 2006

Spaghetti and Zambian Postmarks..

Yesterday was horrible. But it was nowhere near objective; I think coupled with the combination of having been sick for about 3 weeks straight, and a fantastic letdown with the workshop, I entered my first real big crisis here. I always hold my workshops, my meetings, everything important here, on Thursdays. Thursday is the preferred day at my office, but also it lets me relax on Friday, think about other things, and then write the report and go over what happened during the weekend. Plus, Friday nobody comes to work.

So I woke up this morning, not really ready to ‘relax’ per se, but to maybe put my mind off of what happened by thinking of other things. In the morning I washed a ton of laundry. Not exactly fun, but tedious and arduous enough to distract me from yesterday. Then I biked to the market, and it was market day. That was nice. I decided to make spaghetti in the evening so I bought all my ingredients: spaghetti is my ‘western comfort food’ and making it is a family wide affair. Krofiye teaches me how to grind on the grinding stone, Sadia helps me light the charcoal fire, we all cut the vegetables. Plus, I like cooking. I like working with my hands – there is something soothing and realistic and marvellous about it.

I got back around 13h00, learned some weaving from Sister Helena, who finally untangled the yards and yards of red and white threads and had threaded the weaving loom. Finally, around 15h00, I started chopping up vegetables, learning Twi songs from my sisters and making my spaghetti. Then in comes Harouna, my friend and Madame Janet’s nephew, from the Post Office. At first, I don’t even think he’s coming to visit on some kind of official capacity – I think he’s just in to see Mme. Janet. Then he walks towards me with a letter… “Its for you, mail from Zambia.” I no sooner clutch the envelope and glance at the address written in Sarah Jane’s all too familiar handwriting, than I begin running around the compound, letter in hand, yelling “wahooie! Wahooie!”. My family thinks I’ve gone crazy. Eventually, I calm down enough to explain to a slightly afraid Harouna, and bemused family, that this is a letter from my best friend, that I haven’t seen or spoken with in almost 2 months, from Zambia.

But I don’t tear it open. Nope. I go to my room and put it carefully on my desk and return to make my spaghetti. After eating the spaghetti (I did well if I might say so myself. The best spaghetti in all of East Gonja…maybe the only spaghetti?), we watch some GTV news, and then it starts raining heavily. I make some tea, and go to my room, to sit down and read the letter. Not only is it a great letter, but somehow it was precisely and magically timed. Just when I needed a friend the most, just when I needed something familiar, something from the world outside of the challenges at the office and being a “development worker” but not doing so hot at this particular moment – a letter from my best friend. I read about her very evangelical family, her washing clothes at night and eating ‘super mahea’, which apparently isn’t so tasty. Going in an army truck to pick up a pastor and news about their different pre-departure training. The letter was proof that I was a person outside of these circumstances and that, even in far away places, the people who cared about me hadn’t forgotten me entirely. It was so refreshing to hear about what SJ was doing, and there was so much familiarity echoed in her experiences. The letter made me miss her, but also so glad that we could be penpals!

I got a little bit more confidence to re-analyze my problems with a less pessimistic slant: to remember that I, ApoorvaTRON, ninja extraordinaire, was not a quitter and would get through this. Its amazing how much something so small can brighten your whole day, renew you for the complicated tasks ahead…

I called Robin, my “boss”, friend, and EWB longterm volunteer, to figure out a strategy with which we could tackle the problems I fact at work. Robin helped me realise that what I thought was a personal lack of trust building amongst the field staff was an indicator of bigger organizational and leadership problems in the office. Things were, of course, not magically better at all – the problems I face are not rooted in the lack of attendance of my workshop, but come from widespread structural weaknesses and some sketchy “history” that my partner office has, things that have been bothering me since I arrived… But the problems seemed more like challenges than insurmountable damage. I don’t know what I’m going to do to address these issues yet, but at least I’m thinking now……

So, SJ, my friend the Zambian Renegade Combinosauras development ninja, thanks for making my day. You are awesome and I can’t wait for us to share our experiences!!

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